Tora Tora Tora will bring explosive history lesson to Wichita Flight Festival

Eight planes resembling Japanese attack aircraft will scream and swoop over Jabara Airport amid bombs and walls of fire this weekend.

The noise of the planes and explosions will create “planned pandemonium,” said Gordon Webb, who will lead a pyrotechnics team of 15 people for Tora Tora Tora, the featured act at the Wichita Flight Festival on Saturday and Sunday.

The show commemorates the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.

The real attack signaled the beginning of America’s involvement in World War II. The simulated attack is intended to be a history lesson, not a glorification of war, he said.

“We’re bringing that moment in history to the crowd,” said Webb, who has been with the show for 24 years. “And at the same time, our message is honoring those who served our country and continue to serve our country.”

The show also is intended to remind people “why we still need to be vigilant and why we still need our military today,” Webb said.

The Wichita Flight Festival, put on by the city of Wichita, will get under way at 10 a.m. both days. Admission is free.

The air shows will be held from noon to 3 p.m. both days. Aerial stunts will be performed by a variety of aircraft. A jet-powered Snoopy doghouse, a jet-powered school bus and a plane landing on the top of a moving pickup also will be featured. Attendees will be able to meet and talk to pilots after the shows.

Tora Tora Tora is scheduled to perform just before 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and about 7 p.m. during the evening show on Saturday, Webb said.

Arthur Dunn, one of the few remaining Pearl Harbor survivors, will be available from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday to share his story. Dunn, 90, of Belle Plaine, was a gunner’s mate on the USS Oklahoma, which was torpedoed seven times and capsized within eight minutes of the attack. Dunn swam out from under the boat through fuel oil and flames to safety.

Webb said those who survived the attack are moved by Tora Tora Tora, which has been performing since 1972.

“It brings back memories, but largely they understand it,” he said.

Sometimes the show has been the target of complaints prior to a performance, but when that happens, those who put on the show make a push in that community to get the word out that Tora Tora Tora is paying tribute to the military and providing an important history lesson, Webb said.

In all, 27 people, all volunteers from around the country, are involved in Tora Tora Tora.

A narrator starts the show by telling the story of the attack, and several minutes later the planes arrive. They follow an FAA-approved maneuvers package as part of a highly scripted and choreographed show.

The planes fly in loops and follow patterns flown by Japanese torpedo bombers, dive bombers and dog fighters.

The planes are leftover movie props from the original “Tora Tora Tora” movie, Webb said. Some have appeared in other war movies, and about half of them appeared in the latest “Pearl Harbor” movie.

All are owned by the Commemorative Air Force, a national nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of historic military aircraft. Most are based in the Houston area and are in the care of the pilots who fly them.

The show includes 60 bombs. A wall of fire serves as the finale.

The 60 bombs are broken into four groups of 15. Webb’s crews detonate eight bombs per minute in coordination with the planes.

Webb said only once in his 24 years with the show has a member of the pyrotechnics crew needed medical attention. That happened when somebody was clipped by a piece of flying debris.

During the average year, Tora Tora Tora participates in 12 air shows. This year, its schedule has been cut in half due to sequestration, Webb said. Six of its shows were to take place at military installations.

The show never fails to move him.

“I’ve been doing this for 24 years and yet every time I hear our narrator start – and that’s the only time I can hear him – I still get get goosebumps,” he said.

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